Fifty years after the March on Washington, conservatives, libertarians, and even some White liberals have heralded the arrival of a “postracial” era, in which racism—conceived as behavior occurring between individuals—has been replaced by a new frame of “colorblindness.”
Jean V. Hardisty challenges this simplistic understanding of racism in her new report, Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Race and Child Care in Mississippi. Founder and president emerita of Political Research Associates, Hardisty analyzes how the colorblind frame operates “to preserve the pre-civil rights power structure and the racial inequality of resources and access.” She explores Mississippi—the “ground zero” of structural racism in the United States, according to Hardisty—and focuses on child care for poor and low-income mothers as a case study.
Poverty runs deep in Mississippi, especially among African Americans, and its effects are reflected in the state’s health statistics. Mississippi ranks last in the U.S. in child welfare. Life expectancy and other health measures are substantially worse for African Americans, who comprise 37.2 percent of Mississippi’s total population but account for 55 percent of its low-income households. Black women are disproportionately represented among welfare recipients.
Subsidized child care—a proven and highly effective means of breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty—should be a critical site of intervention and funding for Mississippi’s policymakers. But far from combatting legacies of racial inequality, the state’s child-care system reflects and further perpetuates structural racism. Young mothers must navigate a highly bureaucratic, burdensome application and renewal process. Official language, often openly hostile and stigmatizing, reflects broader efforts to portray welfare recipients as conniving, sinful, lazy, and unintelligent.
Hardisty contextualizes Mississippi’s child-care system as the most recent iteration of the Right’s extensive record of hypocrisy—for example, claiming to promote “family values” while criticizing poor women for not working while receiving welfare benefits. Hardisty also notes how the Right has shifted funding for child-care and welfare programs toward block grants that are controlled by the states, thus undermining federal programs that benefit poor women of color. She connects Mississippi’s current policies and protocols to the Right’s historical demonization of the poor.
The report concludes by identifying several strategies for strengthening Mississippi’s system. Recommendations include minimizing the bureaucratic and administrative hurdles that shame women and make it difficult for them to receive subsidies; allocating more resources to the nonprofit sector, which can provide advocacy and social services, push for systemic reforms, and challenge block-grant funding systems; and increasing the transparency and efficiency of the child-care certificate programs and regulatory mechanisms.
Mississippi is emblematic of the challenges facing women of color and antipoverty programs across the country. And while no panacea, her report makes clear that child-care subsidies are essential in combatting intergenerational poverty. You can find her full report—which includes strategies for strengthening Mississippi’s system—on both the website of the Wellesley Centers for Women and her personal website, JeanHardisty.com.
**Rebecca Suldan contributed to this post**